When Vancouver city council returns to in-person meetings possibly this fall, citizens attending city hall will not be required to produce proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
The City of Vancouver via its communications department confirmed Wednesday that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders related to the new vaccine passport do not apply to public meetings at city hall.
“We will need to review the detailed PHO order when it is available, however we have been advised that the proof of vaccination requirement won’t apply to formal local government business, including byelections, council/board meetings and public hearings for both council/board members, as well as the public attending these events,” said the city in an email.
At this point in time, the email continued, vaccinations are not mandatory for city staff or elected officials. But mask wearing for people attending or working at city buildings — whether vaccinated or not — is still in effect, as per Henry’s orders for public indoor settings.
A return to in-person meetings at city hall was anticipated this month. But that is on hold at least until October and possibly longer, with the surge in COVID-19 cases and corresponding public health orders dictating the city’s next move.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Coun. Adriane Carr confirmed Wednesday that meetings scheduled this month will continue online until further notice, meaning citizens can still phone in or send emails related to an agenda item.
“It’s disappointing, but totally understandable,” said Carr by telephone. “I’m not hearing anything but support for staff’s decision to delay reconvening in person.”
Carr, who is vaccinated, said she misses the in-person interaction with citizens, staff and fellow elected officials at meetings.
"It's been really hard not being there the last year-and-a-half," she said.
The past 17 months since city council shifted to virtual meetings have seen some people attend the council chamber to speak, but the vast majority of citizens have spoken to council by telephone.
The mayor and those councillors responsible for chairing meetings have, for the most part, conducted meetings from home, while some staff such as the city clerk and meeting coordinators have been present at city hall.
Council is currently operating under a ministerial order that allows for meetings to be held electronically. That order expires Sept. 28, according to the email from the city’s communications department.
“Council meetings would be in-person after that date, unless council decided to approve changes to the procedure bylaw to continue electronic council meetings [fully electronic or hybrid] after that date,” the city said.
Public meetings scheduled in September for the Vancouver Police Board, park board and school board are also expected to continue online, although officials contacted by Glacier Media Wednesday say they will monitor public health orders as the month progresses before making a final call to cancel a return to in-person meetings.
“The park board is planning on returning to in-person meetings, but that is subject to PHO orders,” said Jeannine Guerette, a park board spokesperson, in an email Wednesday. “The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27 (being moved from Sept. 20 to accommodate the federal election.] We’ll know more closer to that time.”
The mayor described the situation as “fluid,” noting the understandably ever-changing direction from the provincial government as it responds to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We are working with the provincial health officer as well as our local health officials here to figure out what’s best for both our staff here at the city, all the city workers and the public,” said Stewart, noting discussion continues about what a return to in-person meetings at city hall would look like, including the possibility of only some councillors being present in the chamber and others connected electronically from home.
Stewart spoke to reporters Wednesday as a large crowd gathered outside city hall to protest against the need to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It was the second protest in the same location in as many weeks, with the mayor telling protesters via Twitter last week to “go the hell home.”
He elaborated Wednesday on those words, saying he had no issue with peaceful protest but was concerned about protesters impeding access of others to medical care at the nearby Vancouver General Hospital.
The mayor said he discussed the issue with Police Chief Adam Palmer.
“I will do everything I can to ensure our residents are not blocked from accessing medical care and that frontline workers are supported,” said Stewart, noting he and his wife have been vaccinated and have obtained their vaccine passports.
Carr used the words "appalling" and "despicable" to describe last week's anti-vaccine protest outside city hall.
"It's testy times," she said.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported 814 new cases of COVID-19. Of those, 135 were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, which includes Vancouver. The total number of active cases in VCH is 939.